The House Committee on Appropriations revealed that $6 billion in grants for deploying broadband and wireless to the underserved are included in the economic stimulus package that is being debated in Congress.
“Our short-term task is to try to prevent the loss of millions of jobs and get our economy moving,” the committee wrote in the report. “The long-term task is to make the needed investments that restore the ability of average middle-income families to increase their income and build a decent future for their children.”
These provisions are just the beginning. Former FCC official and Obama transition team member Blair Levin, speaking at the “State of the Net” conference on Wednesday, said the economic stimulus package is meant to address very short-term goals, and should not be read as fully addressing the long-term goal of universal broadband. Further programs will be added down the road.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has said a $30 billion broadband program to close the digital divide would create about 950,000 new jobs.
Many in the industry have wondered whether broadband wireless technologies like WiMAX could get a big boost from the broadband provisions. The committee did not specifiy how much of the funding will be directed toward wireless, but the Wireless Communications Association International industry group, not surprisingly, is bullish. “As the only broadband platform that is capable of providing access everywhere, all the time, wireless broadband is essential to achieving universal broadband connectivity,” wrote WCAI President Fred Campbell in a statement. “WCAI applauds the inclusion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of funding for the delivery of wireless broadband to underserved areas. Funding wireless broadband will spark a revolution in productivity and enable the innovation that is so essential to strengthening our economy now and in the future.”